Importance of Marriage
Within weeks the people of Ireland will be asked to vote in a referendum that will change the meaning of marriage in the Constitution of Ireland. The Church’s position on this is entirely positive: it is against the proposal to redefine marriage. We are not taking a conservative viewpoint or wilfully inhibiting genuine progress. We are not being mean-spirited towards those who have same-sex attractions. On the contrary, we regard marriage as the central and crucial social relationship, which is of natural law and plays an indispensable part in human life. This is seen nowhere more than in pro-creation and the parenting of children. What happens in marriage serves the common good of both the man and the woman and society itself. Our view of Christian marriage, properly explained and understood, is not in any way disrespectful of people who experience same-sex attraction. As a Church we believe every person is equal in the sight of God and should always be treated with love, dignity and respect.
Jesus reminds us in the Gospel of St. Mark that “from the beginning of creation God made them male and female. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined with his wife, and the two shall become one. So there are no longer two but one”. (Mark 10:6-8). Marriage is the union of a man and a woman, based on the complementarity of male and female. This truth is being challenged today. Maleness and femaleness are aspects of our dignity through which we have the potential for creating new life. This is underlined by the teaching of the Second Vatican Council which says “by its very nature the Institution of Marriage and married love is ordered to the pro-creation and education of offspring and it is in them that it finds its crowning glory”. (Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World).
A Challenging time for Marriage
The Rights of Children
There is no denying the fact that Marriage faces difficulties throughout the Western world today. These pressures impinge on all, but particularly on children. In the forthcoming referendum we are not just being asked to redefine marriage, we are redefining the family and depriving, in the words of Pope Francis, “the rights of children to grow up in a family with a mother and a father”. One of the most important and fundamental questions that each of us has to consider is the rights of the child. Following the Referendum on Children’s Rights our laws now enshrine the principle that, in all decisions relating to a child, the welfare of the child must be paramount.
Honouring the Traditional View of Marriage
The family is the crucible of our humanity, the miniature world in which we learn how to face the wider world. The family is the seedbed of the future, the best way we have yet found of fostering security and trust. We should be aware of what is at stake here. We are in fact redefining the family. Throughout history and across all cultures, marriage has been consistently understood to be the union of male and female with procreative potential. A society that identifies the two parties in marriage as spouse I and spouse II has lost sight of a deep truth of human nature. Do the complementary roles of mothers and fathers matter in the upbringing of children? Are we going to be the first generation in human history to say that mothers and fathers don’t matter any more in the upbringing of children? Pope Francis has been very clear in his response to this question. As he said recently: the family is the foundation of co-existence and a guarantee against social fragmentation. Children have a right to grow up in a family with a father and a mother capable of creating a suitable environment for the child’s development and emotional maturity. This referendum is not and should not be about judging the various family types which have always existed as a reality in Ireland. Married parents and single parents deserve as much support as possible as they live out the challenging vocation of parenthood. It is a referendum, however, which is seeking to redefine the very values underpinning our faith-based and cultural understanding of marriage itself, the consequences of which will impact upon our future generations.
Referendum not about Equality
In saying this we are not disparaging anyone, nor are we being disrespectful to same-sex relationships. Despite what we are led to believe this referendum is not about same-sex relationships or about equality, but about the family. Civil partnerships have already been introduced which give same-sex couples the same rights as heterosexual couples in terms of inheritance rights, next-of-kin status, employment, and tax related benefits. Such relationships ought not, however, be classified as marriage. So why the need to redefine marriage?
Comparing other Jurisdictions
We are being told that we must introduce this because lots of other countries have. In fact only one quarter of European countries have done so and none by a popular vote. Indeed, it has been defeated whenever it has been put to the people.
Viewpoint of the European Court of Human Rights
Contrary to popular belief same-sex marriage is not a human right. The highest human rights court in Europe is the European Court of Human Rights and it has found that there is no right to same-sex marriage in the Convention on Human Rights. States are free to make a distinction in their own laws between marriage and same-sex unions.
Inter-denominational and non-denominational approach
The point should be made that many people who are not Catholic and indeed might rarely find themselves aligned with the Church on any subject have expressed misgivings about the purpose of the referendum and the manner in which the Government has prepared for it and in which some sections of the media have conducted and facilitated debate in its regard.
Pray for Marriage
The effects of this proposed amendment will be far-reaching for this and for future generations. We invite people of faith to bring this decision to prayer. In the coming weeks, and particularly in May, the month of Mary, we call for prayer for marriage and the family.
Family and Marriage – Important – Reflect before changing it!
In conclusion marriage is of fundamental importance for children, mothers, fathers, and society. Marriage should remain a cornerstone of the family unit and all of us need to reflect deeply before changing it. For this reason we encourage everyone to vote on May 22nd.
+ Michael Neary
Archbishop of Tuam